Ex-Blackwater contractor sentenced to life in Iraq shootings

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Blackwater security contractor was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison for his role in the 2007 shooting of unarmed civilians in Iraq that left 14 people dead.

Federal judge Royce Lamberth issued the sentence after a succession of friends and relatives requested leniency for Nicholas Slatten, who was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury in December last year.

Prosecutors charged that Slatten, 35, was the first to fire shots in the September 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad. In all, 10 men, two women and two boys, ages nine and 11, were killed.

The defence had argued that Slatten and other Blackwater contractors opened fire only after they saw what they mistakenly thought was a potential suicide car bomber moving quickly toward their convoy.

Defence attorney Dane Butswinkas described Slatten as “a person of high integrity” whose family members had served in the United States (US) military for four generations.

Several of Slatten’s supporters openly accused prosecutors of scapegoating an innocent man in order to placate Iraqi public opinion. The shootings strained US-Iraqi relations and focussed intense international scrutiny on the extensive use of private military contractors in Iraq.

In 2014, a jury convicted Slatten and three other contractors — Paul Alvin Slough, Evan Shawn Liberty and Dustin Laurent Heard— who were part of a four-vehicle convoy that was protecting State Department personnel in the area. An appeals court overturned that conviction, saying Slatten should have been tried separately from the three other men.

Slatten, of Sparta, Tennessee, was retried last summer, but a mistrial was declared after the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict. A subsequent jury convicted him of murder in December 2018.

Former Blackwater Worldwide guard Nicholas Slatten enters a taxi as he leaves federal court in Washington, after the start of his trial. PHOTO: AP